With school districts shutdown everywhere because of the covid-19 pandemic, When will our schools rep-open again? Is a question that on everyone’s minds all across this country.
Last Thursday, The Daily Wire reported that Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, told a gathering of school administrators and medical professionals that the nation’s largest county would not likely open schools until after the election.
Ferrar was reported to have said,
“We don’t realistically anticipate that we would be moving to either tier 2 or to reopening K-12 schools at least until after the election, in early November.”
If the statement raised your eyebrows and perked up your ears, you’re not alone.
A copy of Ferrar’s remarks to school administrators and education and medical professionals was obtained by a local LA radio station. The radio host who obtained a copy of the audio contacted the LA Health Department and asked the department when schoools are likely to re-open, to see if their statement was consistent with Ferrar’s. It wasn’t. It was filled with generalities and read:
We’re reassessing all of the time, and as soon as we do the in-person learning with the high risk, high needs students, the special needs, we will reassess for everyone else.’
Hmmm. Waiting until after the elections doesn’t sound very scientific. Could Ferrar have been talking about early November as a time period? Of course, but the LA Health Department did not mention any of it.
Conservatives have been criticized by Progressives and the mainstream media for wanting to re-open businesses and schools. Critics say they are putting economics before public health.
We’re constantly told that Governor Cooper relies on “the science, the data and the facts” to make his decisions regarding re-opening North Carolina. Sounds great. However conservatives fail to understand what data or metrics are driving the governor and have justifiably criticized him for his failure to be more transparent about how he makes his decisions. (See here and here)
So did Barbara Ferrar merely admit that politics — not “science and data” — drive the decisionmaking in many states ?
A recent article by Corey DeAngelis found that school districts in locations with strong teachers unions are less likely to open in person, even after controlling for differences in local demographic charactersistcs. That underscores what many have long thought: teachers unions – and especially powerful teachers unions — have a big say determining when and how schools re-open.
In a recent article, John Valent a researcher at the Brookings Institution analyzed various local health conditions, district demographic and political data to see if school reopening plans were more related to public health concerns or political considerations. Valent found school reopenings were linked to politics, not concerns about public health. Valent writes:
In reality, there is no relationship—visually or statistically—between school districts’ reopening decisions and their county’s new COVID-19 cases per capita. In contrast, there is a strong relationship—visually and statistically—between districts’ reopening decisions and the county-level support for Trump in the 2016 election. Districts located in counties that supported Trump are much more likely to have announced plans to open in person. On average, districts that have announced plans to reopen in person are located in counties in which 55% voted for Trump in 2016, compared to 35% in districts that have announced plans for remote learning only.
Science and data, it all sounds good, but it doesn’t seem to be driving decisions on re-opening.
Are Ferrar’s comments a slip or merely tell us that political considerations –not public health reasons – are determining how long schools will remain closed around the country. The governor’s inability to identify specific metrics that trigger decisionmaking is the best evidence to support the assertion. Cooper’s inability to respond to such criticisms, gives credence to Ferrar’s surprising remark and may only work to further erode Cooper’s credibility.